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Jim: Na’gara, todavía hay tiempo

August 1, 2010

I am acutely aware that I have not written a lengthy, descriptive post for over a month. The first two weeks I justified to myself that I was on vacation. And, legitimely, I was. I knocked out three finals and two papers, took a day off, and then made a break for Caracas, hoping to land on Isla Margarita. I had the fortune to safely transverse Caracas, make a friend on the Paseo Colon in Puerto La Cruz and chill on the beach in Parque Nacional Mochima before fortunes decided I was to go direct back to Mérida without a stop on Margarita’s white shores. Thank you to the people who looked out for me on that trip, whether or not you read this. I am grateful your constant warnings about my impending stoning and robbery still seem unnecessary.

En Puerto La Cruz hay ocaso brillante cada noche!

Moving on, if you’ve read my other posts, you might think me niave or just a fake liar for posing hypothetical goals for myself without any evidence of progress. Niave, yes. Liar, no.

In a sense, my trip to Puerto La Cruz was an opportunity to think about being an ecotourist. I mean, I was certainly being a tourist. As for eco-something, I guess the best conclusion I have come to is the most important thing that should come out of a trip is how you feel about it, which I see as being directly related to how you treat the people you meet. I think you have to have an insatiable curiosity and interest in your surroundings to know the best of the place you’re in and the discipline to travel slowly enough to respect your own limits and the limits of people you meet. Because the alternative is indifference and haste. Which, I guess serves in some cases, but mostly for places that aren’t really places at all, like airports and hotels. So, at this point I’d say an ecotourist is someone who is curious but respectful and above all knows when to stay and when to go.

Pedro nos preparó para la cueva da la pirata con linternas y cascos de bicicleta.

I had a somewhat anti-ecotourist experience last weekend when I went with some friends to La Cueva de La Pirata in La Azulita, which is a small town about 3 hours into the mountains north of Mérida. I mean, by all accounts, the trip was about as environmentally low-impact as a trip in Venezuela gets, but I just caused a few akward moments. We got into La Azulita and found the cave site and there was a group of mountaineers from Mérida practicing climbing on the clifff face above the cave entrance. We met them and talked for a bit before they volunteered to lead us into the cave. They shared their helmets with us and gave us an awesome tour. So we got out and we exchanged contact info and they invited us to climb with their gear when they got done with practice. So we hung out and I eventually had a good, if exhausting, climb. I got down and took off the gear, put on my shoes, and watched the expert climb up and untie the safety rope. Then the akward part. The akward part where I probably should have offered some money for their gracious offer of equipment. The akward part where I should have thanked them immediately, offered money, shaken hands, and left before they broke out the bread like it was the last supper á la cueva de la pirata. What I did instead was a poorly timed sequence of the forementioned. And that, in the end, was akward. Lesson being: know when to stay and when to leave.

Continuing what was at that point basically a two week vacation, I traveled two weeks ago to Coro with my friend who was visiting family. Coro is situated in the northwest of Venezuela, just south of the Penisula of Paraguana and east of Lago Maracaibo. The city is a Unesco World heritage Site, as I understand it, because of its role in the Colonization and Independence of Venezuela. The UNESCO Website says “With its earthen constructions unique to the Caribbean, Coro is the only surviving example of a rich fusion of local traditions with Spanish Mudéjar and Dutch architectural techniques. One of the first colonial towns (founded in 1527), it has some 602 historic buildings.” What that means in fact is that most of the houses have plaques that refer to a time Simón Bolivar (1783-1830) stopped in to grab an empanada or get a haircut. Later on, we headed out on the pelisula and chilled on the beach until heading back via goatherds and salt flats, both of which are very salty, hot, and full of multicolored bacteria. One of the characeristics of the day was the repeated presence of the governor’s helicoptor overhead. Apparently, on weekends the governor of Falcón flies around and sees what’s going on. As the next day was La Día de la Independencia (July 5th) there was no class to attend back in Mérida so we headed into the mountains to go swimming and tell ghost stories. All I can tell you is that you should never walk alone in the forest at night and if the whistle of the Silbón sounds far away, he is right behind you.

Mi familia adoptiva extendida de Coro…

I’ve been trying to stay on track learning Spanish, getting to know Venezuelans, and take care of business as I live the next three weeks. The Silbón is right behind. I feel like I’ve been speaking a lot of English the last week, although a fair amount of that is in reciprocity with Venezuelans learning English, and who always talk to me in Spanish. And my class schedule gives me more time outside of class. But in the last week, I keep coming back to knowing I need to keep growing and I wonder, how I should be growing? And that answer I think is fluency. In Spanish. In communication. In cultural skills. In people skills. A good friend asked me, “What is fluency?” He said to me later that fluency is when you can pick out the words that people say to you. When you’re first learning a language you can’t hear all the words, only the ones you know. Later, when you’re fluent, you can hear words you don’t know. So, that is my next goal: to hear the words, literal or metaphorical, that are being said, and learn if I don’t know them.

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